The Dirt on Ear Infections

An ear infection (otitis externa) is one of the most frequently diagnosed medical conditions in pets—especially dogs with floppy ears. Signs of an ear infection can include scratching at the ears, head shaking, ears that are red and/or painful to the touch, an unpleasant smell or a dirty discharge inside the ear. Here are four facts about ear infections:

  • Left untreated, otitis externa won’t get better by itself.  It can lead to permanent changes such as narrowing of and scar tissue build-up in the ear canal.  This can predispose Fido or Fluffy to repeated infections and recurring pain. Other serious problems including hematomas (a solid swelling of clotted blood within the ear flap) or middle ear infections can also occur.
  • Not all ear infections are alike.  Otitis externa can be caused by harmful bacteria, fungi or ear mites.  Depending on the ear swab results, our doctors will prescribe medication that includes one or more ingredients including an antibiotic (to kill bacteria), antifungal(to kill fungi), acaricide (to kill ear mites) and an anti-inflammatory to reduce pain and inflammation.  Since there are so many possible causes, using a medication prescribed for a previous ear infection may not be effective.
  • Regular ear cleaning can be just as important as administering medication.  Our veterinarians will often recommend you use a cleansing solution to remove excess wax and debris from the ear canal before medicating.  Without proper cleaning, it’s sometimes impossible for the ear medication to penetrate the ear canal and do its job.  
  • Recheck exams are vital to resolving otitis externa. At the end of treatment, it’s very important that your four-legged friend return (often 7-10 days after the initial diagnosis) so one of our doctors can recheck the ears.  Because many ear medications include an anti-inflammatory drug that reduces redness, swelling, and soreness, you may decide the infection has been resolved. Unfortunately, some cases may require a longer course of treatment for a complete cure and, without a recheck, you won’t know if the source of infection has been removed.

To prevent otitis external from returning, we recommend you follow all medication and/or cleansing solution instructions, make a recheck appointment, regularly check your pet’s ears, and use a cleansing solution once weekly to remove any debris.  Repeated otitis externa may indicate further medical diagnostics to determine if there are one or more underlying causes including inhalant or food allergies, hypothyroidism, or Cushing’s Disease.

If you see any of the ear infection signs noted above, please call us at (630) 427-4070 to schedule an appointment with one of our veterinarians.

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